Marcus Coates: The Last of Its Kind / Reviewed by Alastair Levy / 20.04.18
In the summer of 2017 Marcus Coates travelled to Fogo Island, Newfoundland to ask for an official apology to be given to the Great Auk, a flightless bird that was hunted to extinction in 1844. The resulting film, currently showing as part of The Last of Its Kind, documents the formulation of this apology by a committee of local residents and its delivery to the open sea, via megaphone, by the mayor of the island. “We promise to do all we can to protect your kin, the other auks, birds and animals that we share our territories with, to maintain the diversity of conditions necessary for their survival… We will do everything within our power to prevent the future extinctions of others.”
As with all of Coates’s work, a sincere conviction of purpose is accompanied with a defiant mischievousness. There is something slightly pathetic about this figure of authority standing alone, watched by a small crowd, as he speaks from a script addressing the collective ghosts of the Great Auks. He represents our collective failings in relation to the environment, both in the past and present, and makes a promise on behalf of us all to be better in the future. Coates’s status as an outsider to this community, and as an artist, means that he is able to enrol the mayor in this performance perhaps more easily than the permanent residents might. He undoubtedly enjoys using this status as a way of subverting conventional power structures, even if very quietly.
In the same space as this video are two sculptural works. Siberian Tiger (2018) is a piece of stretched linen made to the height and length of the animal, now highly endangered. On a plinth nearby sit a collection of plaster casts made from the artist’s hands while performing the shadows of a range of extinct animals including the Atlas Bear, the Japanese Honshu Wolf, the Golden Toad and the Irish Elk. These forms are all imagined by the artist and this is most apparent in the case of the Lake Pedder Earthworm which is represented by a solitary finger. Again Coates does a brilliant job of bringing a subtle humour to what is otherwise very sobering subject matter.
The other video work here, The Last of Its Kind (2017), depicts the artist imagining himself as the very last human on earth. Standing naked within the confines of a stone shelter he shouts what appears to be a stream of consciousness towards the sea as he details various technological achievements. “We have plastic, we have radio, we have refrigeration. We have telephones, we have the wheel. We have the quark and the neutrino.” There is a desperation in his voice as he tries to convince the landscape, despite its indifference, that we might be worth saving. As with the other pieces in this show, it reiterates with great clarity the need for us to preserve our planet and the other species we share it with, and that scientific progress is worth little if we sabotage the possibility of our own continued existence.
– reviewed by Alastair Levy
Marcus Coates: The Last of Its Kind was shown at Workplace Gallery, London, 9th February – 14th April 2018
61 Conduit Street, London W1S 2GB